SRNL, A Area (copy)

The Savannah River National Laboratory is located at the Savannah River Site, which is south of Aiken.

A top U.S. Department of Energy official will be in North Augusta on Thursday to discuss what's been billed as the "vision" for the Savannah River National Laboratory.

Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar will make the forward-looking presentation at the Crowne Plaza hotel, 1060 Center St., during an industry day, a get-together for those interested in the future operation of and missions at SRNL.

Dabbar is expected to speak for about a half-hour.

What exactly comprises the vision is not immediately clear. But in December, the Energy Department showed interest in a new approach for the Savannah River Site-located lab: The department issued a request for information for a discrete management contract that would, if consummated, split SRNL from its current track and allow a wholly separate team to take over.

Paul Dabbar, DOE Headshot

U.S. Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar.

A request for proposals – a more concrete step – could be issued this fiscal year, an Energy Department spokesperson told the Aiken Standard last month.

The Savannah River National Lab is currently operated for the Energy Department, namely its nuclear cleanup office, under a broader contract held by Fluor-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.

The lab does work related to energy manufacturing, national security, nuclear nonproliferation and environmental remediation.

A standalone contract should better position the lab for the future and allow it to foster research and development opportunities, federal documents show. The new contract – if actually pursued and executed – is also expected to boost engagement with the lab, particularly in the Southeast.

At one point, the Energy Department's science office was examining how it could have more involvement and sway at the Savannah River National Lab, according to Deputy Under Secretary for Science T.L. Cubbage.

Michael Budney, who manages the Savannah River Site, had made similar, corroborating comments.

Senior science personnel visited the lab in August 2019. Dabbar visited the year prior.

But theories of an Office of Science takeover have been dashed for the foreseeable future as, according to an Energy Department spokesperson, it has been decided to "leave responsibility for SRNL with the Office of Environmental Management."

Environmental Management stewards the Savannah River Site, which is about 30 minutes south of Aiken and neighbors New Ellenton.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin